Live a Life Less Ordinary in Panama’s Highlands

So many interesting things to do—so little time…

Living in Panama for only six months of each year is simply not enough for my husband, Gary, and me. Even though we are retired, each and every day in Panama could be filled to the brim with activities, if we so choose.

We live in the Chiriquí province, an area that’s chock-full of fun, interesting things to do and see. In fact, there’s so much to enjoy here that we barely have time to do the basic house and yard necessities! And grocery shopping is more often than not squeezed in between sightseeing tours or recreational activities.

Boquete, especially, which is where most of the expats reside, has a lot to offer.

Coffee tours, zip lines, white-water rafting, hot springs and golf are all available in Boquete. Or you can take nature hikes up Volcan Baru, which is the highest mountain in Panama and the only place where, at the summit, you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

In addition to all that, there is an annual blues and jazz festival, a coffee and flower fair, an excellent and active theater group, a garden club, and an organization called Bid 4 Boquete which puts on a huge silent auction each year. This wonderful organization raises thousands of dollars every year to aid local charities.

If you want to relax, you’re in luck. A beautiful new library has just been completed in Boquete and is full of books just begging to be read.

(Speaking of books, there is a terrific English-language, used bookstore between Boquete and Dolega which contains, at last count, over 50,000 books. If you’re an avid reader like me, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.)

Panamanians love fairs and parades and many of these feature Panamanian traditional dancers, complete with stunning costumes. Children learn these dances, called Tamborito, at a very young age and it’s wonderful to watch them performing.

Sport lovers are catered to in the Chiriquí province, too. David, the capital city of the region, is home to a semi-professional boxing club and has a huge stadium where baseball is taken very seriously.

Annually David also hosts a one-of-a-kind horse parade. Panamanian caballeros love their horses and treat them like family—and it shows. Even though my husband and I were both raised on farms in Canada, we were awestruck by the beautiful, lovingly maintained horses as they pranced proudly down the main streets of the city—all 3,000 of them!

Once a year, too, you can take in the giant David agricultural fair, the biggest fair in the region. Native dancing, games, agricultural displays and horse events are just some of the attractions that draw thousands to the city to see it every year.

If you need a change of a scene after your time in the city, there are pristine, sandy beaches within a half- to two-hours’ drive from the city, a couple of which are particularly well-known for their surfing. They also feature beautiful resorts and sport fishing.

You can take a long walk on the beach or a dip in the warm ocean, followed by a cold one and a snack at one of the quaint little beachfront restaurants. My idea of heaven…

And far from being overrun with visitors, the beaches tend to be peaceful and quiet here. Many of the beaches are virtually deserted during the week, only coming alive on the weekends.

If you’re not in the mood for the beach, drive from David along the Pan-American Highway towards Santiago. There you’ll find a very rutted, steep road that branches off into the jungle. The destination is definitely worth the drive. Nestled in this lush rainforest is Alouatta Sanctuary, a monkey rescue center where howler monkeys are placed after being abused or neglected. They are free to roam the acreage at will but are cared for by a compassionate, learned group of employees and volunteers from all over the world.

There is nothing I have found that compares with spending an afternoon being cuddled and climbed over by these extremely affectionate little creatures.

If you prefer staying closer to home, there is so much to do locally: art classes, yoga, culinary demonstrations, sculpting courses, and more.

So, you see, there is never a dull moment in Chiriquí. And the best part is, you can be as busy or as laid-back as you wish here. It’s entirely up to you.

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